No injuries were reported following the spectacular fire Wednesday evening at the Terrace Paving asphalt plant along Highway 16.
Thornhill Fire Department Chief Rick Boehm said crews responded to a call of a commercial structure fire at 4330 Hwy16 East around 5:20 p.m. on July 11.
Firefighters arrived on scene to discover one of two large oil-storage tanks used for the asphalt-making process was directly exposed to 12 to 15-foot tall flames coming from an oil heater, used to keep the product inside the tanks fluid.
Fire crews extinguished the blaze within 30 minutes using a water-foam mixture before cooling the tanks with 23,300 gallons of water to ensure there was no risk of explosion.
“This is a unique situation, it’s not something that you would encounter. If we see this again in our career, it would be pretty limited,” said Boehm. “It could have been ugly but we were very lucky.”
Hwy 16 was shut down for 30 minutes as crews set up an 800-metre evacuation zone around the area. Terrace RCMP were also called in to help assist with traffic.
Boehm said it’s unknown how the oil heater caught fire in the first place but suspects the gas-fired heater had malfunctioned.
Marko Rutar, area manager for Terrace Paving and Kentron Construction in Kitimat, drove across town to be on site as soon as he heard about the blaze. He said he hadn’t experienced an incident like this in his 30-year career.
“We’re lucky in that the big oil tanks didn’t catch on fire, that would have been a much more serious issue,” Rutar said over the phone. “The fire department did an awesome job getting there quick… keeping the tanks cool before it could get out of control.”
He said the heater can run for extended periods of time but has a temperature gauge to turn the system on and off as needed.
“Obviously it was some sort of electronic failure, but all the evidence has been destroyed. We’ll never really know,” he said.
No staff were on site during the fire as the plant had been closed for that day.
Rutar said another heater will be brought in over the next couple days to replace the damaged unit.